Surprise result in abortion vote nixes 'safe areas'

In a confused vote in Parliament, MPs have done away with all sections of the Abortion Legislation Bill that would have made legally protected 'safe areas' possible outside clinics.

The Bill had its second reading in Parliament last night, in which possible changes were debated and voted on ahead of the third and final reading.

Up for debate were 150 metre safe zones that could be established around abortion clinics on a case-by-case basis, to prohibit intimidating or interfering behaviour.

MPs initially voted down a proposal to remove the simple definition of safe areas from the Bill, and so that definition has been retained.

The vote went 59 to 56.

However, the ACT leader David Seymour's amendment on scrapping safe zones had another, more significant part to it.

That second vote was on removing all the legal provisions for safe zones, including the ways in which the police could administer them so as to protect women from harassment as they sought abortions.

That vote, to delete sections 15 through 17 of the Bill, was taken in a voice vote only, and it passed - rendering the definition of 'safe area' redundant in the law.

The second vote appeared to take MPs, including the Justice Minister Andrew Little and the Justice Under-secretary Jan Logie, by surprise.

Logie had to check with the Speaker what exactly had just happened, and what the outcome was.

The reply came that the amendment was agreed to.

Seymour said the safe zones would have set a dangerous precedent around freedom of expression.

Earlier, the Justice Minister, who introduced the Bill, said the reality was that women had reported feeling harassed outside abortion clinics.

Little said women should not be subjected to harassment when going to receive a medical procedure.